Healthy foods to reduce risk of cancer and heart disease
We all know the age-old saying, “you are what you eat”, well, it’s very true. Researchers have been studying how the foods we eat, and the contents found in them may raise or lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Energy intake (calories) should be in balance with energy expenditure. To avoid unhealthy weight gain, the total fat consumed each day should not exceed 30% of total energy intake whilst consumption of saturated fats should be less than 10% of total energy intake, and intake of trans-fats less than 1% of total energy intake. Avoid saturated fats where you can think of an alternative. Keep salt intake to less than 5 grams per day, read food labels, many foods contain high salt content, you may not even know what you are consuming until you do. Sugar levels should also be kept to a minimum, avoiding sweet drinks or adding too much sugar to hot drinks and foods.
Red meats, including pork, lamb and beef, along with all processed meat products present the highest risk and should be consumed sparingly. Processed meats include bacon, ham, sausages and cured meat products, these are also naturally high in salt content. Experts recommend that we limit our intake of red meat to less than 18 ounces per week and we avoid processed meat products to maintain a healthy diet.
Plant based foods are by far the best bet, whilst it is recommended that we gain our required amount of protein from white meats and fish. A generous fruit and vegetable proportion of out diet lowers cholesterol and is generally likely to lower our risk of several types of cancer.
Oily fish, excluding farmed salmon
Wild salmon Mackerel, sprats, whitebait and anchovies all contain important nutrients, including omega 3, all properties that are linked to reducing the risk of cancer in those that regularly consume them.
Much of the salmon available in the supermarkets however is farmed. We should avoid eating too much farmed salmon for they have been found to contain harmful contaminants, including cancer causing polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCB”). A study undertaken in 2004 found that PCB concentrations in farmed salmon were eight times higher than in wild salmon. Additionally, due to the high fish stocking density, farmed fish are more prone to disease and bacterial infection than wild salmon and thus feed pellets are often loaded with antibiotics, increasing resistance in humans when consumed.
Whilst more expensive and less available, eat wild salmon and avoid the farmed stuff.
“Oily fish can stop cancer” reported the Daily Express, claiming that a study found that a three-ounce portion of oily fish just once a week could help men to survive prostate cancer, finding that prostate cancer can be reduced by almost 60% with a higher intake of omega-3, the fatty acids found in oily fish. Researchers claim that omega-3 reverses the effects of an inherited gene that can lead to the development of an aggressive form of the disease.
The study looked at fish and fatty acids in the diets of men with and without aggressive prostate cancer. It found that healthy men had a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids and interpreted this to mean that omega-3 has a protective effect against cancer. It also found that men with a particular gene variation that codes for the COX-2 enzyme had increased risk of prostate cancer, and this risk fell with higher omega-3 consumption. We should be eating 2 – 3 servings of oily fish per week to reap the benefits.
Cruciferous vegetables, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, sprouts, bok choy and spinach contain beneficial nutrients, including vitamin C, vitamin K, iron and manganese. These cruciferous vegetables also contain sulforaphane, a plant-based compound with known anti-cancer properties.
Tomatoes are also great, they contain lycopene, the compound responsible for producing the red colouration. It is recommended that we all eat the equivalent of 2 tomatoes each day as part of our balanced diet, this can be in the form of juices or passata (tomato base) used in pastas, curries and other dishes.
The phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is also true. Apples contain polyphenols with powerful anti-cancer properties. Berries, in particular blueberries and blackberries, are rich in vitamins and minerals. Researchers have shown keen interest in berries due to their antioxidant properties. Studies show that anthocyanin, a compound in blackberries reduced biomarkers that cause colon cancer and that the anti-inflammatory effects of blueberries can also help prevent the growth of breast cancer tumours.
Citrus fruits, high in vitamin C are also known to keep cancer at bay and should be included as part of a healthy balanced diet. Mangos are juicy, tropical and delicious, with great nutritional benefits, high in fibre, vitamin A and C, essential for maintaining healthy skin. Just 80 grams of mango counts as one of your five a day. The phytochemicals present in mango are found to have gastroprotective effects, with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Dietary fibre roughage is widely known to lower risk of heart disease, stroke bowel cancer and diabetes. We should all be eating about 30 grams of fibre a day, whilst children need less, at between 15 – 20 grams per day. Choose wholemeal and granary breads, wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, brown rice or bulgur wheat. Skin on potatoes are also a great source of fibre, as are lentils, chickpeas and other beans. Go for high fibre breakfast cereal, no sugar Alpen, bran flakes and shredded wheat are ideal.
Herbs & Spices
Turmeric is a spice well-known for its health benefits. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric delivers powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been shown in studies that the effects of curcumin given orally reduces tumors in stomach cancer patients. It is recommended that we all eat 3 -4 grams of turmeric each day added to our food.
Garlic contains allicin, a compound that has demonstrated to terminate cancer cells in multiple studies. It has been shown that those who consume allium, found also in onions, leeks and shallots, had a significantly lower risk of stomach cancer than those who did not. We should all eat at least the equivalent of 2 cloves a day in our food, or one onion, a staple base for any pasta or curry dish.
Whilst there is no hard and fast answer, we should all be eating these foods regularly as part of a healthy balanced diet. The long and short is, avoid red and processed meats, eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and exercise well, you will be on course to improve your life expectancy and reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and the big C.